Thomas Bryant

Eastern Notes: Washington, Bryant, Heat, Pistons, Mykhailiuk

Following a press conference to talk about his new three-year contract, Hornets forward P.J. Washington gave an exclusive interview to Roderick Boone of The Charlotte Observer.

Washington, who was the last standard restricted free agent left on the board, said he was relieved to finally re-sign with Charlotte, nearly two full months after free agency opened at the end of June. He also touched on Miles Bridges‘ return, playing under head coach Steve Clifford, rookie additions Brandon Miller and Nick Smith, and what he’s been working to improve on this offseason, among other topics.

As far as the team’s goal, Washington says the Hornets are focused on something he has yet to achieve in his four-year career — making the playoffs.

That’s the main focus for us,” Washington told Boone. “Since I’ve been here I haven’t been in the playoffs at all. So I want to get a taste of that. I want to see how it feels, and I want to eventually win in the playoffs. I think we have a good coaching staff, we have a good front office, we have good players. So, I think we have everything it takes to be there. It’s just about us being consistent each and every day and trying, but we have to fight and make it happen.”

Here’s more from the East:

  • Veteran center Thomas Bryant says he prioritized the Heat in free agency because “they really wanted me,” according to Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. A skilled scorer, Bryant thinks his offensive versatility will help Miami. “I feel like I can help this team based on what I’ve seen as an interior presence, interior scoring, my versatility out there to be able to shoot the three and make mid-range jump shots and score at the rim,” Bryant said. “But I feel like the versatility that I will bring to the table will really help the team in a great way.” Bryant, who signed a two-year deal with the Heat that includes a player option, will be competing for backup center minutes, Chiang notes.
  • The Heat have a full 21-man offseason roster at the moment, but five players are on Exhibit 10 training camp deals, three are on two-way deals, and Orlando Robinson‘s contract is only partially guaranteed for $75K. In practical terms, that means the Heat only have 12 players with guaranteed standard contracts. Assuming Robinson makes the roster out of camp, Miami will still need to add at least one player to its standard regular season roster, Chiang adds in the same article. As Chiang writes, in the new CBA teams can carry fewer than 14 players on standard deals for a total of 28 days in a season, and only up to 14 consecutively.
  • The Pistons have an intriguing blend of youth combined with veterans who can shoot. While the young core gains more experience, Detroit’s depth should provide new head coach Monty Williams plenty of options ahead of training camp, per Keith Langlois of
  • Svi Mykhailiuk recently signed a one-year deal with the Celtics that — for now — is partially guaranteed at $200K. Jared Weiss of The Athletic examines what the veteran wing might provide for Boston, writing that Mykhailiuk is a talented if inconsistent offensive player who has some defensive limitations. Still, his size, shooting and complementary play-making could be useful off the bench, according to Weiss.

Heat Notes: Richardson, Bryant, Swider, Bouyea, Lillard

After briefly discussing the Heat‘s offseason moves during an ESPN interview last week, head coach Erik Spoelstra went into more detail while taking part in a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. As Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald writes, Spoelstra is looking forward to having former Heat wing Josh Richardson back on the roster in 2023/24.

“To be able to get somebody like J-Rich, who we are all really comfortable with, who we spent so many hours and years spending time developing him and where he feels also comfortable in our system and how we operate, we just feel very fortunate that we were able to get him when we were able to get him,” Spoelstra said.

“He’s already been in the gym working and it’s almost like, I mentioned to him the last time I saw him in the gym, it’s like the time away never happened. The relationship just started off right where we left it. That’s when you know you have strong relationships back and forth from our standpoint and his standpoint. Also, his versatility is going to be super important. His ability to play multiple positions.”

Here are a few more notes on the Heat, including Spoelstra’s thoughts on some of the team’s other recent additions:

  • According to Spoelstra, newly added center Thomas Bryant is a player the Heat have had their eye on for several years. They worked him out prior to the 2017 draft and were fans of the big man at the time. “His time with (the Lakers last season), I thought was really important,” Spoelstra said of Bryant. “You could see how he could be effective in our system and how he can play with multiple guys. He’s big, he’s physical, he plays with a motor and he can also stretch the floor. So he can have a presence at the rim and in the paint, but he also can space the floor and be efficient behind the three-point line. We’re excited to be able to add him to our roster and add some depth to our frontcourt and some versatile depth.”
  • Spoelstra expressed enthusiasm about forward Cole Swider, who signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the team earlier this month.“He has positional size, he has exceptional three-point shooting and range and versatility with his three-point shooting,” the head coach said. “He can shoot on the move, he can also space the floor and he has the size to be able to get his shot off with great accuracy. So we’re excited to be able to add him to our mix late into the summer. We’re looking forward to developing him and working with him.” Our Tristan Tucker recently identified Swider as a candidate to eventually earn a two-way or standard deal.
  • Spoelstra also believes the Heat will see “bigger jumps” from Jamaree Bouyea, who remained with the club on another two-way deal. “He improved being able to run a team, get guys organized,” Spoelstra said, referring to Bouyea’s play in the G League. “And defensively and the things that he can do with his speed are just super unique. So we wanted to have an opportunity to continue his development and have a second year at it.”
  • Following Damian Lillard‘s public confirmation of his trade request in an interview with Marc J. Spears of Andscape, Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald breaks down that interview from a Heat perspective, noting that trade talks with the Trail Blazers have been “largely dormant” for several weeks.

Erik Spoelstra Discusses Heat’s Roster, Offseason Moves

There’s a sense that the Heat‘s offseason remains unfinished, with the Damian Lillard saga unresolved and Miami still looking like the overwhelming favorite to trade for the Trail Blazers star sooner or later.

However, speaking to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst on NBA Today on Thursday (YouTube link), head coach Erik Spoelstra suggested that he’d be happy to head into the 2023/24 season with his current roster, noting that the team “had most of our work done” by the time he reported to Team USA for the summer.

“We’re bringing back the majority of our players and that’s a luxury in this league,” Spoelstra said, per Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald. “Things are so transient, things are moving fast. It seems like it’s moving faster now than even four, five, six years ago.

“We feel great about our group. We made some nice additions, we feel. Josh Richardson, getting another family member back into our program. Thomas Bryant, who we’ve been a big fan of. And [Jaime] Jaquez as our draft pick. We’re excited. He’s a guy you can plug and play right now. He’s a little bit older and he has a great deal of experience. So we’re adding those guys to our mix and bringing everybody back. Tyler [Herro] is healthy, Jimmy [Butler] and Bam [Adebayo], that’s a great core. So we’re excited about it.”

Spoelstra obviously can’t publicly discuss the possibility of adding Lillard and is unlikely to be directly involved in trade negotiations for the star guard, which will be handled by the front office. So the fact that he’s speaking positively about his current group is no surprise.

Still, Spoelstra is putting a positive spin on what has been an up-and-down offseason so far for the Heat. While Miami did well to get Richardson and Bryant on minimum-salary deals, the team lost two key rotation players – Gabe Vincent and Max Strus – in free agency. The Heat should be competitive again with no additional roster changes, but acquiring Lillard would almost certainly increase the club’s ceiling.

Heat Notes: Lillard, Roster Openings, Trade Exceptions, Centers, Cain

The Heat have two open roster spots but they’re in a holding pattern until the Damian Lillard situation is resolved, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

Without trading for Lillard, Miami is only in position to add players on veteran’s minimum deals. The Heat would have even more roster spots open by dealing multiple players for Lillard.

Winderman also notes there are plenty of free agents with former ties to the organization looking for contracts, including Kendrick Nunn, Goran Dragic, Derrick Jones Jr., Justise Winslow and Meyers Leonard.

We have more on the Heat:

  • Unless they need one of them as part of a blockbuster trade for Lillard, the Heat are unlikely to use the three trade exceptions they’ve generated, Winderman writes in a mailbag piece. The exceptions of $9.5MM, $7.3MM and $4.7MM cannot be aggregated. The punitive elements of the luxury tax in the new CBA discourages using any of them to bring in more salary.
  • Unlike last season, the Heat have multiple options at backup center behind Bam Adebayo, The Miami Herald’s Anthony Chiang writes in his latest mailbag. It could be Kevin Love, if he doesn’t start at power forward. Otherwise, free agent signee Thomas Bryant and Orlando Robinson will battle for those minutes.
  • Jamal Cain is in limbo. He’s a restricted free agent after finishing last season on a two-way deal. Miami extended him a qualifying offer before free agency and Cain is trying to improve his stock during Summer League action, he tells Chiang. “I’m just trying to do what I can here to make sure I get a contract,” he said.

Heat Sign Thomas Bryant To Two-Year Contract

JULY 2: The Heat have formally announced Bryant’s deal with the team, issuing a press release to confirm that it’s official.

JULY 1: The Heat and free agent center Thomas Bryant have agreed to a two-year contract, agents Mark Bartelstein and Zach Kurtin tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

It’ll be a minimum-salary contract with a second-year player option, according to Wojnarowski. The first-year cap hit will be about $2.53MM, then Bryant will make a decision on a $2.85MM salary for 2024/25.

Bryant, who will turn 26 later this month, signed with the Lakers in free agency a year ago after returning from an Achilles tear that limited him to 37 total games for the Wizards in the prior two seasons. He played well in Los Angeles, averaging 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds in 41 games, including 25 starts. However, when his rotation role was cut back, he reportedly sought a change of scenery.

The Lakers acquiesced, sending him to the Nuggets in a trade-deadline deal. Bryant didn’t end up playing much in Denver either, averaging just 11.4 MPG in 18 appearances down the stretch, but he got to part of the team’s championship run this spring.

In Miami, Bryant figures to get an opportunity to play rotation minutes behind Bam Adebayo at center, with centers Cody Zeller and Omer Yurtseven both on the open market and seemingly unlikely to return. The Heat’s newest center will bring some floor-stretching ability, having made 36.6% of his career three-pointers.

A strong season would put Bryant in position to opt out and return to free agency a year from now.

Nuggets Notes: Brown, Jordan, Green, Jackson, Rookies, Braun

After winning a title during his first year as the Nuggets‘ head of basketball operations, Calvin Booth has no appetite for major roster changes heading into his second season. He tells Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required) that he’d like the team’s 2023/24 roster to look a lot like the ’22/23 group.

“Hopefully we get the whole crew back,” Booth said, in reference to a group of free agents that includes Jeff Green, Ish Smith, DeAndre Jordan, Reggie Jackson, Thomas Bryant, and – of course – Bruce Brown. The Nuggets can only offer Brown a limited raise, but hope to re-sign him.

“Obviously Bruce is the biggest fish,” Booth said. “He has a million options. Waiting eagerly to see what’s going to happen when the moratorium ends. Hopefully he’s back in a Nuggets jersey.”

Asked specifically about veteran leaders Green and Jordan, Booth expressed more confidence in the club’s odds of bringing back Jordan, noting that Green will have “options” and adding that he’ll have to check in with the forward’s agent.

Interestingly, while Jackson wasn’t a key contributor down the stretch for the Nuggets and didn’t have a rotation role in the playoffs, a league source tells Singer that the team would like to re-sign the veteran point guard.

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Denver’s roster will look at least a little different in ’23/24 due to an influx of rookies — the club drafted Julian Strawther (No. 29), Jalen Pickett (No. 32), and Hunter Tyson (No. 37) on Thursday. Tony Jones of The Athletic explores what the Nuggets are getting in those newcomers and considers how the team is attempting its own version of a “two-timeline” plan that didn’t work out for the conference-rival Warriors.
  • Explaining why the Nuggets targeted Strawther at No. 29, Booth told reporters this week that he liked the fact that the former Gonzaga sharpshooter has played in “high-pressure games” and believes he can improve Denver’s shooting off the bench (subscriber-only story via Singer). However, if the Nuggets’ roster remains relatively healthy, Booth expects Strawther to spend some time playing in the G League as a rookie.
  • Despite playing rotation minutes during the Nuggets’ championship run this spring, second-year wing Christian Braun may suit up for Denver in the Las Vegas Summer League, tweets Singer. Some team executives would like to see him seek out his shot and be aggressive in a way he wasn’t asked to during his rookie season, Singer explains.

Nuggets Notes: Potential Dynasty, Jackson, Reserves, Kamagate

The Nuggets are one victory away from their first NBA title, but they have the foundation in place to win several more, writes John Hollinger of The Athletic. Hollinger notes that the team’s core players are all in their prime with Nikola Jokic at 28, Aaron Gordon at 27, Jamal Murray at 26 and Michael Porter Jr. at 24. All four are signed for at least two more seasons, and Denver isn’t facing any significant tax issues despite having three max contracts.

The only expected loss from this year’s rotation is Bruce Brown, a free agent addition last summer, who’s expected to turn down his $6.8MM player option and test the market again. The Nuggets don’t own Brown’s Bird rights and won’t be able to compete with the offers he’s likely to receive.

They may be in the same position with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope next year, Hollinger adds. Denver worked out an extension with the veteran guard after acquiring him from Washington, but he has a $15.4MM player option for 2024/25 that he might decide to decline.

Hollinger points out that Nuggets have navigated the cap by amassing young talent on affordable contracts. Late first-round picks Christian Braun and Peyton Watson will make a combined $4.5MM next season, and they both appear ready to become consistent rotation pieces.

There’s more from Denver:

  • Reggie Jackson hasn’t played much since signing with the Nuggets after a trade and a buyout in February, but the 33-year-old guard is happy to still be in the league, per Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports. Jackson thought about retiring when he was with the Pistons as persistent ankle injuries kept him off the court. “I can’t believe I’m here now,” he said. “Especially after Detroit, I wasn’t sure I wanted to play anymore and then being resurrected in L.A. (with the Clippers). The build-up there, the fun there. Then being traded, it’s coming full circle.”’
  • Denver’s bench players have contributed to the championship run by not making waves about their playing time, observes Tony Jones of The Athletic. Jackson, DeAndre Jordan, Thomas Bryant, Ish Smith and others have been content with limited minutes and sometimes none at all. Jones adds that the only Nuggets player who has been unhappy with his role this season was Bones Hyland, who was traded in February.
  • Ismael Kamagate, whom the Nuggets selected with the 46th pick last year, is finalizing an agreement to play for EA7 Emporio Armani Milan next season, tweets Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews. A recent report indicated that he likely wasn’t in Denver’s plans for 2023/24.

Trade Breakdown: Clippers/Nuggets/Lakers/Magic Deal

This is the 11th entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a four-team deal between the Clippers, Nuggets, Lakers and Magic.

Trade details

On February 9:

  • The Clippers acquired Bones Hyland.
  • The Nuggets acquired Thomas Bryant.
  • The Lakers acquired Mohamed Bamba, Davon Reed, the Clippers’ 2024 second-round pick, and the Clippers’ 2025 second-round pick.
  • The Magic acquired Patrick Beverley, the Nuggets’ 2024 second-round pick, and cash ($2MM; from Lakers).
  • Note: Both the Nuggets and the Lakers created a couple of small traded player exceptions as part of this deal, which can be found right here.

The Clippers’ perspective:

February’s trade deadline was unusual in that it featured several transactions that were originally reported as being between two teams, but were eventually folded into four-team deals.

For the Clippers, this transaction was very straightforward. They dealt away their 2024 and 2025 second-round picks to Denver and used a traded player exception to acquire Hyland, a second-year guard. That was the end of it for them.

The Nuggets flipped those two second-rounders — plus Reed and their own ’24 second — to the Lakers for Bryant. The Lakers then rerouted Denver’s second and Beverley to Orlando for Bamba. Three separate trades were folded into one because it made sense to do so.

The Clippers finished the regular season ranked 17th in the league on offense, and Hyland is a talented microwave-type offensive player – he can get hot in a hurry. He provides some flair and unpredictability to an offense that can be a little bland and stagnant at times.

When the deal was made, I was skeptical that the second-year guard would actually receive meaningful minutes, and that turned out to be accurate, at least initially. He only appeared in five of his first 14 games with the Clippers, averaging 7.0 PPG and 3.6 RPG on .297/.278/.800 shooting in 14.2 MPG.

The primary reason for that is Hyland is a combo guard whose size (he’s listed at 6’2″ and 169 pounds) makes it difficult to play him as anything but a point defensively. No matter where you play him on that end, he’s prone to making mistakes both on and off the ball.

However, injuries to Norman Powell (left shoulder subluxation) and Paul George (knee sprain) created an opening for Hyland, and he finished the season as a regular contributor off the bench, averaging 12.9 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 4.3 APG on .440/.375/.700 shooting in nine games (21.6 MPG).

Hyland’s immaturity (he left Denver’s bench out of frustration in the fourth quarter of a Jan. 22 game against the Thunder), defensive lapses, and displeasure with his role were reportedly factors in the Nuggets looking to move the former first-round pick. I’m sure Hyland shoving Mason Plumlee in the regular season finale raised a few eyebrows within the Clippers organization, even if it was a relatively minor incident.

Still, despite his flaws, adding a 22-year-old with some real offensive talent on a cheap, controllable contract through at least 2024/25 for just a couple of second-round picks was a worthwhile gamble for the Clippers. Even if it doesn’t work out in the long run, the cost was relatively low.

The Nuggets’ perspective:

When I write these trade breakdown articles, I treat it as a thought exercise where I try to put myself in the position of the respective teams’ front office. Of course I rely on reports and public statements as well, but NBA decision-makers aren’t always forthcoming with the media, which is understandable.

I try to be as objective as I can, which is challenging — I don’t necessarily personally agree with what I’m writing at times, and it’s hard to prevent my opinions from slipping through.

The reason I waited so long to write about this particular trade is I really didn’t like it from Denver’s perspective, and I still don’t.

Moving on from Hyland for a couple of second-round picks was reasonable enough; I’m sure the Nuggets did their due diligence, and that’s what his market value was. All the trade rumors coming out about how motivated they were to move him certainly did not help on that front.

My issue was that they rerouted those second-rounders and included one of their own to add a player on an expiring minimum-salary contract who doesn’t fit well on the roster. It’s not that Bryant is a bad player, he just doesn’t make sense on the Nuggets.

Part of the reason Denver’s bench has struggled so much all season long is because of the team’s reliance on Nikola Jokic. What he does on the court is impossible to replicate, particularly offensively – he’s the most efficient high-volume scorer in the league, unguardable one-on-one in the post, and one of the best passers in league history.

That reliance has proven to be a double-edged sword, as they lack an identity without him. His on/off numbers are staggering: plus-12.5 with him, and minus-10.4 without, a net difference of 22.9 points per 100 possessions. Every reserve has very poor on/off numbers.

Bryant has a lot of positive qualities. He hustles for loose balls, competes, sprints down the floor and is a skilled offensive player who can really shoot for a center, though his three-point percentages are somewhat misleading, as it’s low volume.

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook were very good at setting him up quality looks, and Bryant was highly efficient at converting them. He averaged 12.1 PPG and 6.8 RPG on .654/.440/.741 shooting in 41 games with the Lakers (25 starts, 21.4 MPG).

However, he is much more of a finisher as opposed to someone who can create for himself and others, and the Nuggets don’t really have anyone who can reliably feed him in the pick-and-roll. Head coach Michael Malone has been playing Jamal Murray with the second unit lately after abandoning the Reggie Jackson experiment, but they’re both score-first point guards. Bruce Brown isn’t a natural point either.

Bryant is a limited defensive player who – like Jokic – doesn’t protect the rim, and he also doesn’t possess Jokic’s basketball IQ or quick hands to be disruptive. He tries, but Bryant doesn’t move very well laterally and he’s on the small side for a center.

Long story short, Bryant’s skill set doesn’t fit well with Denver because he doesn’t have anyone who can reliably set him up on offense, and while he is a solid rebounder, he is an overall poor defensive player. It’s just a bad mix.

At the end of March, Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports asked Malone (Twitter video link) why he thought Bryant hasn’t been able to find a rhythm with the Nuggets.

No idea. I can’t answer it. Maybe ask him that,” Malone replied.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It was also a little strange considering Bryant isn’t the first backup center who has been productive on other teams and struggled in Denver over the past few seasons, joining JaVale McGee and Isaiah Hartenstein. That tells me the coaches deserve some blame for failing to utilize those players as well.

In 18 games with Denver, Bryant has averaged 4.6 PPG and 3.3 RPG on .485/.444/.722 shooting in just 11.4 MPG. He has been buried on the depth chart behind Zeke Nnaji and DeAndre Jordan since Malone made those comments.

I really liked some of the moves the Nuggets made over the past year, including trading for (and extending) Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, signing Brown, and drafting Christian Braun and Peyton Watson. All are players who filled roster needs.

As I said, I understand trading Hyland if he was causing problems in the locker room, and if that was the end of it, that would have been fine. But flipping those two second-rounders and including an additional one to acquire Bryant – who almost certainly won’t be retained – was a poor decision, in my opinion.

The Magic’s perspective:

It’s hard to say that Bamba’s tenure with the Magic was anything but a disappointment. He was selected No. 6 overall in the 2018 draft, ahead of players like Wendell Carter Jr., Mikal Bridges, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Michael Porter Jr., Kevin Huerter, Robert Williams and Jalen Brunson, among several others.

Bamba dealt with injuries and never seemed to gain former coach Steve Clifford’s trust in his first three seasons, as he averaged just 15.3 minutes per game in 155 games from 2018-2001. He averaged 6.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 1.3 BPG on .471/.325/.646 shooting over that same span.

You could say being behind All-Star center Nikola Vucevic was partly to blame, but there were times when Bamba was outplayed by Khem Birch and Moritz Wagner as well. Draft status doesn’t mean much if you aren’t contributing at a high level.

After Orlando traded Vucevic and hired Jamahl Mosley to be the new head coach, Bamba emerged as the team’s starting center in 2021/22, which was the fourth and final season of his rookie scale contract. He averaged 10.6 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 1.7 BPG on .480/.381/.781 shooting in 71 games (25.7 MPG), re-signing with the Magic on a two-year, $20.6MM deal, though only his ’22/23 salary is guaranteed.

Bamba played alongside Carter in the frontcourt last season after Orlando acquired the former Duke big man as part of the Vucevic deal. However, the Magic landed the No. 1 overall pick last June and selected Paolo Banchero, a skilled power forward, which moved Carter up to center and put Bamba back on the bench.

The 24-year-old was mostly outplayed by Wagner again this season once the German big man returned from injury, burying Bamba further on the depth chart. The short-lived return of Jonathan Isaac, who later went down with season-ending adductor surgery, also likely played a factor in Orlando’s willingness to move Bamba.

The Magic gave Bamba opportunities — things just didn’t work out. He’s on a pseudo-expiring contract (non-guaranteed $10.3MM salary for ‘23/24), essentially making him a rental player.

It turns out he didn’t have a ton of league-wide value, which is why Orlando only got a second-round pick back. Taking on some additional salary in the form of Beverley didn’t affect the Magic’s cap situation, as they’re well below the luxury tax (they also received $2MM in cash from the Lakers). Beverley was later bought out and signed with the Bulls.

The Lakers’ perspective:

You can’t really look at this trade in isolation for the Lakers, as they completely revamped the roster with a series of moves in January and February.

The Lakers have gone 18-8 over their last 26 games despite missing LeBron James for 13 of those contests, so clearly the moves were beneficial in the short term.

They also recently signed Tristan Thompson and Shaquille Harrison to fortify their depth ahead of the postseason. They had one open roster spot and waived Reed to accommodate the second addition (he only played 27 garbage-time minutes across eight games with Los Angeles).

Bryant reportedly requested a trade after Anthony Davis returned from his foot injury. He played well as a fill-in starter for the Lakers, but wanted a bigger opportunity. Obviously, things have not worked out with Denver.

As for Beverley, moving him saved money toward the tax and created more playing time for the new additions as well as Austin Reaves, who has excelled over the past few months. Beverley had a rough start with the Lakers and although he eventually turned things around, he’s still a limited offensive player who is much older than Russell, Beasley, Reaves and Dennis Schröder.

Unfortunately, Bamba sustained a high left ankle sprain that sidelined him for a month not long after the Lakers acquired him, so it’s hard to get much of a read on how the team views him. He does bring a different skill set than Wenyen Gabriel, who has been the primary backup center following Bryant’s exit.

Bamba is listed at 7’0″ and 231 pounds with an enormous 7’10” wingspan, making him one of the longest recorded players in NBA history. He’s also shot 38.3% on threes over the past two seasons – an above-average mark, particularly for a center.

Gabriel, meanwhile, is 6’9″ and 205 pounds. He makes up for his lack of size by relentlessly going after rebounds and being a solid, versatile defensive player. He has outperformed his minimum-salary contract, but he’s still limited offensively and rough around the edges at times.

Bamba is more of a pick-and-pop threat, and obviously he has the size and length to be a deterrent in the paint – opponents shot 57.9% at the rim against Bamba, a solid mark.

That doesn’t necessarily mean Bamba is an overall positive defensively, however, as he’s prone to attempting blocks he has no chance of reaching, leaving the weak side open for offensive rebounds and easy put-backs. Still, his physical tools are enviable, and he won’t turn 25 until May.

Bamba’s $10.3MM salary for ‘23/24 will become guaranteed if the Lakers don’t waive him by the end of June. If they do release him and want to bring him back, they’ll have to re-sign him using something besides his Bird rights, which would be lost if he’s cut (he would regain his Bird rights for 2024 and beyond if he did re-sign with the Lakers in that scenario).

Nuggets Notes: Malone, Jackson, Bryant, Nnaji, Murray

The Nuggets remain atop the Western Conference despite losing five of their last seven games. Coach Mike Malone says it’s time for his team to start playing at a championship level as the postseason approaches, he told Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

“That’s not up to our standards,” he said of the team’s recent stretch. “This is gonna sound weird for most people, but more important than the wins and losses, is how we’re playing. Yeah, we want to win every night, but as I told our players yesterday, with 10 games to go now, it’s all about getting back to playing and developing championship habits. We got away from that.”

We have more on the Nuggets:

  • Reggie Jackson has shot 31.4 percent since he signed as a free agent. Thomas Bryant has averaged just 9.9 minutes since being acquired from the Lakers. Malone says he’s closer to deciding whether they’ll be part of the postseason rotation. “You have to give them an honest look. Can’t just be one or two games. You have to give them an extended look to see what you have,” Malone told Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports. “But now with 10 games to go, we’ve gotta find a group and a rhythm and give them some opportunities to formulate that on-court chemistry moving forward. And I have a pretty good idea of who that is.”
  • Zeke Nnaji is also getting a look late in the season after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for six weeks, according to Singer. In his first game back, the 22-year-old power forward played 12 minutes and contributed four points, five rebounds and a block against Brooklyn. Malone said Nnaji made the second unit more athletic and versatile defensively.
  • Jamal Murray has averaged 35.8 minutes per game this month despite dealing with right knee inflammation and occasional left knee soreness. Malone said Murray’s health is being monitored on a regular basis, Singer writes.  “It’s a daily conversation with Jamal, the training staff,” Malone said. “See where he’s at, not just physically, but mentally as well.”

Western Notes: Gilgeous-Alexander, Jones, Cancar, Nuggets’ Bench

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pumped in 35 points against New Orleans on Saturday but the Thunder are still playing it cautious with his recent injury. He sat out the second game of a back-to-back against San Antonio on Sunday due to what the team described as abdominal strain injury management, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. The Thunder star guard has exceeded the 30-point mark in his last four outings.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Tre Jones missed the Spurs‘ game against Oklahoma City on Sunday with a non-COVID illness, Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express News tweets. Jones averaged 13 points and six assists in his last two appearances.
  • Nuggets forward Vlatko Cancar was available to play against Brooklyn on Sunday, coach Michael Malone told Mike Singer of the Denver Post (Twitter link). Cancar missed three games with a wrist sprain and also didn’t play against San Antonio on Friday.
  • The Nuggets’ second unit has been unsettled after changes were made during and after the trade deadline, Singer writes. Reggie Jackson has struggled with his shooting (29%) since becoming the backup point guard and Thomas Bryant has been relatively quiet since he was brought in to back up Nikola Jokic. “We’re still trying to figure stuff out,” swingman Bruce Brown said.